With the sacrifice of New York City firefighters on 9-11 seared into our memories, it is easy to forget that firefighters nationwide risk their lives every day. On Monday, nine members of the Charleston Fire Department lost their lives in an instant when a roof collapsed on them in a burning warehouse.
The men had answered a call around 7 p.m. at the Sofa Super Store. While two employees in the building were rescued from the fire, the nine men were inside the warehouse when the entire roof suddenly fell in on them. Witnesses said the collapse occurred so quickly there was no chance of escape.
This ranks as the nation's deadliest single disaster for firefighters since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. While the loss of nine firefighters is devastating under any circumstances, it is especially so in a department with 237 members where most know each other.
Fire Chief Rusty Thomas said he had lost nine of his best friends.
"They did exactly what they were trained to do," he said, adding that members of the department would face difficult days ahead coping with the loss.
Indeed, they did what they were trained to do. And while firefighters can speak about doing their duty, it is likely to strike the average civilian as something of a miracle that these brave men and women are willing to walk into an inferno to save lives and property on a regular basis.
One of the most touching images of 9-11 is that while people inside the twin towers were rushing down the stairs to escape, the firefighters were going up the stairs. In Charleston, Monday night, it was the same thing: As those inside the burning building sought frantically to get out, the nine men were fighting their way in.
Firefighters everywhere will tell you that it's their job. Well, we all know it's something more than that.
We mourn the nine men who died in the line of duty and once again offer our gratitude to all those who do this dangerous work.
Charleston Fire Department will face tough days ahead as it mourns comrades.